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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    ^43
hot We had no water. Our mouths were so parched that
the skin cracked. The air was full of sand, sand crunched
under our feet, gritted in our teeth, pricked our eyes,
blew down our throats. It was horrible, I tell you! If a
man stumbled and fell, he would lie face downwards
in the sand, unable to get up. We had a Commissar, a
chap called Yakov Pavlovich Volodin. A flabby intellec-
tual by the look of him—he was an historian. But he was
a staunch Bolshevik. One would think that he would
have been the first to drop, but he kept on, and encouraged
the others. 'Not far to go now. Well be there soon,* he
would keep on repeating; and if anybody lay down he
would level his pistol at him and say: 'Get up, or I'll
"On the fourth day, when we were only about fifteen
kilometres from the city, the men were completely played
out. We staggered along as if we were drunk, and the
trail we left zigzagged like that of a wounded animal.
Suddenly the Commissar started a song. He had an
awful, thin voice and the song he started was silly, the
marching song they used to sing in the old army, but
we all chimed in and sang it. I gave the order: Tall
into line!' and had the men march in step. You wouldn't
believe it, but the going became easier.
"After this song we sang another, and then a third.
Can you picture it, little girl? We sang with dry, cracked
mouths, and in such a scorching heat! We sang all the
songs we knew and at last arrived, without leaving a
single man in the desert___What do you think of
"What about the Commissar?"
"What about him? He's alive and well. He's a profes-
sor of archaeology. Digs up prehistoric settlements. True,
that march cost him his voice. Speaks in a hoarse whisper.
But what does he want a voice for?... Well, no more
stories tonight. Go along, little girl, I give you my word
as a cavalryman not to die any more tonight."
At last Meresyev fell fast asleep and dreamt about a
strange desert, about cracked, bleeding mouths emitting
the strains of songs, and about the Commissar Volodin
who, in the dream, for some reason resembled Commissar